Remember two years ago when we told you how Kevin Love was becoming a beast before the NBA Draft? If you paid close attention to the article, you would have noticed that Love was training with Joe Abunassar. Abunassar is known for his training company, Impact Basketball, where he trains basketball players year-round, but especially NBA Draft prospects this time of the year. This week, we had the chance to get up with Joe to discuss the NBA Draft, how to eat properly as a basketball player, and what working with Kevin Garnett was like.
Dime: Through the years, you have become a big influence on the basketball world. Growing up as a kid, did you ever see yourself going into the basketball training industry?
Joe Abunassar: Not necessarily as a kid, but in high school I fell in love with coaching. I read a lot about coach Bob Knight. As a junior in high school, I had one goal and that was to coach basketball. That is why I went to Indiana and I was a manager there. My initial goal was to become a head coach in college. I ended up doing the managerial work for four years. I never really thought I would be doing this, but I evolved into this industry. My goal was always to be something in basketball.
Dime: You have had some big name clients over the years, but most recently you worked out John Wall. How good of a fit do you think he can be for the Washington Wizards?
JA: I think he can be a good fit for anyone. You are looking at a point guard with the ability to be a franchise guy. He has a ton of skill. I think he can be a very good for them, and it is great timing for the Wizards to win the first pick.
Dime: After working out with him, would you say there is any unique skill that Wall possesses that is not known about or talked about enough?
JA: I think the people that watch Kentucky got a glimpse of his unbelievable athleticism, great balance and strength. And when you combine that with his skill, you are bound to find a great player. The one undervalued aspect of Wall’s game is his basketball IQ. His knowledge of what to do and when to do it on the court is something you rarely find in a 19-year-old player. He just has it all. The physical skills and the basketball attributes are great, but many people have those two. Something people don’t always have it the mental part of the game mastered, but he actually has that as well.
Dime: At your training company, Impact Basketball, you guys have quite an athletic bunch of players this year training for the NBA Draft. From Stanley Robinson to Avery Bradley, it is an above-average athletic crew. Do you guys always have the elite athletes train with you before the NBA Draft?
JA: I think we get our share of athletic players each year, but you are right that this year’s group is above average. It depends, but guys like Bradley, Robinson, Craig Brackins and James Anderson are studs, and it has been a treat to train those guys. When you get guys who are already such good athletes, it is always a great experience.
Dime: You mentioned Craig Brackins as one of your clients. In my opinion, Brackins is one of the most underrated prospects in this class. One of the things that I was shocked when I heard was that he has a 40-inch vertical leap. Why do you think that he is not seen as the athletic-type of player?
JA: The way he played at Iowa State did not show his athleticism. He got double teamed a lot, not to blame the team, but he also had an off year. He did not play up to his potential and he understands that. Brackins was a projected top-15 player last year and he is still the same guy. I think that he is a very controlled guy. In college, you play in your system, rather than systems fitting for players. He tried to do his best in the Iowa State system, but his athleticism just did not come out.
Dime: I think the NBA scouts and GMs do not give him credit for his decision to stay and have undervalued him.
JA: I think if you look at a Chad Ford’s Mock Draft, and he has already moved back into the first round. But I think you are right. After the Chicago workouts, I think there was a lot of buzz around him. I think he impressed a lot of people.
Dime: Nowadays, the physical part of the game is so important. I think it is important to have good athleticism, but I keep hearing about how Impact Basketball emphasizes on the mental part of the game. What type of exercises do you work on with athletes to be mentally prepared for the NBA?
JA: I think it’s less classroom stuff than it is testing their ability to withstand our workout schedule. This also accounts for the ability to know how to train. There are a lot of players who have never trained the way they need to train. What we do is put our players through extreme stress and get on their case. Every day we film them, enabling them to become students of the game. They figure out how to handle working out hard and eating right every day. When you train with us, your mental capacity becomes sharper because you are in a sense that you will either get chewed up and spit out or you will become mentally stronger. We don’t really do mental tests or anything related to that. I’ve been around long enough to know certain qualities about great players that are unique. We try to teach those through drilling our guys and having an atmosphere for them to become mentally strong.
Dime: One of your clients, Lance Stephenson, has been accused of having a bad attitude in the past. Do you think that Impact Basketball has anything to do with Stephenson’s desire to take a step in the right direction?
JA: We can’t change someone’s attitude. Stephenson came to us with a goal of changing his reputation. When you are young and talented, people can be highly critical. There has been a bad perception about him since he has made some errors in the past. However, you cannot take away what he does on the court. The fact that he has lost 20 pounds and is 4% body fat requires work. Automatically, by being in our system, that helps Lance. If someone is willing to make the commitment to do that to their body, that should give you an indication that their mental approach is much different as well. Look, Lance Stephenson is a great player and he understands the only thing that what could hold him back is people’s perception that he is not coachable. We are out to have our clients improve their Draft status, and in my opinion, Lance has made that commitment and is not even close to the kid people think he is.
Dime: You mentioned Lance losing a lot of weight. One of the undervalued parts of becoming a good basketball player is having proper nutrition. What do a good pre-game and post-game meal should consist of?
JA: For a pre-game meal, you want to make sure your body has it’s glycogens stored fully, which means a nice carbohydrate meal with a balance of proteins. Lean proteins are the best, try not to have a lot of fat in the foods. A good example would be eating pasta with chicken and vegetables on it. Try to stay away from the fatty sauces. This allows your body to perform efficiently. You want to make sure you get your sodium and potassium in your pre-game meal as well. When Kevin Garnett prepares for a game, he makes sure that he has both sodium and potassium because when he sweats, he loses those during the game. For a post-game meal, it is critical to eat properly 60-90 minutes after the game. It will speed your recovery time up three times. That meal should consist of carbohydrates to replenish the glycogens you lost. We tell our guys not only what to eat, but when to eat.
Dime: I had no idea how important timing was for pre-game and post-game meals.
JA: If you went for a run now, you would have a glycogen window. This means that you are able to replenish the glycogens with carbohydrates in your muscles quickly. The window is about 90 minutes typically, but it varies from person to person. It is critical for guys to do this, even if it is a recovery shake. If guys don’t feel like eating or are not in the right place to eat a good meal, we use EAS sports nutrition products. These shakes are great because we know exactly what we are putting in our body. The supplements are very important too.
Dime: Speaking of EAS, Impact Basketball is teamed up with them. How important do you think EAS sports nutrition products are for athletes to reach the next level?
JA: I think it is important because it is impossible for anyone to eat perfectly. If you could eat a perfect meal every time, you would not need supplements. However, that is not possible in our human world. For example, say a kid has an AAU tournament. Normally, teams can play three games in one day. The shakes and the products that EAS provide are perfect to help players get the right nutrients. Even for non-basketball activities EAS is great. Recently, I worked with Jake Gyllenhaal for the movie Prince of Persia who he needed to gain muscle and Tobey Maguire in the movie Brothers who needed to lose weight. Even normal people can’t sit around and measure out your protein or scoop some carbohydrates in every meal, it is not possible. Supplements are key to good nutrition.
Dime: I had no idea that you trained movie stars along with athletes.
JA: Well those opportunities popped up because I live in Los Angeles during the winter and I worked with those guys in my spare time. I still used the same approach that I use with athletes for the movie stars to achieve their goals.
Dime: One of your most famous clients is Garnett. So far in the playoffs, he has been playing great. How do you think his body has held up so well during the Spring? How big of an impact have you had on his career?
JA: I always like to have Kevin answer that last question, but I think he would agree that we have had a big impact on his career. He made a big commitment to having proper nutrition and taking care of his body. When he first came into the league at 18 years old, he could do anything. He was built like a machine. As he got a little older, he really became a student of taking care of himself. If I could give a message about any young player, I would tell them that the only reason Kevin Garnett has held up through the playoffs is from his dedication to his career and his body. We worked at 7:00 AM every morning last year. Rain or shine, he was in the gym. Some days were not pretty, especially after he got knee surgery. He did not look like the KG we were used to seeing. What he is doing to the Magic in these playoffs is a result of his commitment to hard work. He is an animal. He goes 100% every time we workout. He did not even cheat a leg lift last summer. Seeing a guy at his age perform as well as he has does not surprise me since I saw all of the work he put in. I don’t train Kobe, but I would imagine he is the same way. Guys that are older and kicking these young guys’ butts due to their knowledge of how to work hard. Rudy Gay was one of my clients last summer and he told me the other day that he knew Garnett would perform this well after seeing how hard he worked. If you take care of yourself, you are bound to have a long career in the League.
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